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#433457 - 03/19/12 02:42 PM Airborne lasers show deforestation at Caracol
Marty Offline

Airborne lasers show undocumented deforestation at Caracol Archaeological Reserve

Slash-and-burn agriculture in Belize. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Slash-and-burn agriculture in Belize. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

A NASA funded expedition using airborne lasers to study ancient Mayan ruins has also documented widespread illegal deforestation in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve. The lasers found that forest disturbance was actually 58 percent greater than recent satellite surveys showed, according new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society (TCS). Such deforestation not only imperils biodiversity, carbon storage, and migration routes for Central American species, but could also lead to plundering of the Maya site of Caracol.

The NASA research employed a system known as LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) to discover unfound archeological sites in the jungle, once home to one of the Maya's greatest cities. But the expedition also provided greater insight into deforestation in the 10,340-hectare Caracol Archaeological Reserve, due to the sensitivity of the lasers even over satellite imagery. The new data shows that in all 11 percent of the reserve has been disturbed by illegal deforestation.

"Unfortunately, as we are learning more about the archaeological remains at Caracol with LiDAR, this same technology is also detailing extensive modern deforestation and looting along the Guatemala-Belize border that is encroaching several kilometers into the archaeological reserve and threatening the preservation of Belize’s cultural and natural heritage," the scientists write.

The loss of forests within Caracol Archaeological Reserve imperils a massive wildlife corridor that allows animals to move freely from Mexico throughout much of Central America.

"These forested areas function as important components of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, which is being continually threatened by changes in human land use patterns within and beyond Belize," the authors write.

The use of LiDAR to detect even smallscale forest disturbance makes it a tool of the future for forest monitoring. The only impediment, according to the researchers, is its high cost.

Belize has lost over 13 percent of its forest since 1980.

CITATION: Weishampel, J. F., Hightower, J. N., Chase, A. F. and Chase, D. Z. 2012. Use of airborne LiDAR to delineate canopy degradation and encroachment along the Guatemala-Belize border. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 5(1):12-24.

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#433618 - 03/21/12 08:48 AM Re: Airborne lasers show deforestation at Caracol [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

NASA-funded study shines light into deforested Belizean forests at Caracol

A study supported by a NASA grant through the Space Archaeology program and the University of Central Florida, University of Florida, Space Research Initiative, has released its findings on research conducted in Belizean forests, comparing previous satellite data to recently acquired data using laser technology.

“Addressing the problem of deforestation/forest degradation is critical as, during the 2009-11 archaeological field seasons (January-March), the sounds of chainsaws were heard almost daily by researchers working near the epicenter which is located H”6 km from the border,” the researchers said. “Researchers repeatedly stumbled upon small cleared areas, some with planks remaining and evidence of horse paths that were used to transport the lumber [as shown in the accompanying photo].”

The deforestation findings are detailed in a recently released study captioned, “Use of airborne LiDAR to delineate canopy degradation and encroachment along the Guatemala-Belize border”, published in Tropical Conservation Science: Vol. 5, No 1 (2012), and authored by John F. Weishampel and Jessica N. Hightower of the Department of Biology at the University of Central Florida, along with Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase of the Department of Anthropology of UCF.

The report said that focus areas were analyzed in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve (CAR), located next to the Chiquibil National Park (CNP) and Chiquibil Forest Reserve (CFR), and adjacent to the Guatemalan border.

“Unfortunately, as we are learning more about the archaeological remains at Caracol with LiDAR, this same technology is also detailing extensive modern deforestation and looting along the Guatemala-Belize border that is encroaching several kilometers into the archaeological reserve and threatening the preservation of Belize’s cultural and natural heritage,” Weishampel et al documented.

“Most of the deforestation over the last 30 years occurred during the last decade (2000-2010),” they also note, and “most of the deforested areas continued to be used for agriculture or pastureland, and hence forests were not permitted to regenerate.”

The researchers note that, “Tropical rainforest clearing and degradation significantly reduces carbon sequestration and increases the rate of biodiversity loss. There has been a concerted international effort to develop remote sensing techniques to monitor broad-scale patterns of forest canopy disturbance.”

They compared satellite-derived measures of canopy disturbance that occurred over a three-decade period since 1980 to those derived from a 2009 airborne LiDAR campaign over the Caracol Archaeological Reserve in western Belize, and found that where they were able to overlap the data, they showed more than a 58% increase in the extent of canopy disturbance.

“For the entire archaeological reserve, with the addition of LiDAR, there was a 2.5% increase of degraded canopy than estimated with Landsat alone, indicating that 11.3% of the reserve has been subjected to illegal selective logging and deforestation,” the researchers added.

They go on to say that, “Incursions into the reserve from the Guatemala border, represented by LiDAR-detected canopy disturbance, extended 1 km deeper (to 3.5 km) into Belize than were derived with Landsat.

“Thus, while LiDAR enables a synoptic, never-seen-before, below-canopy view of the Maya city of Caracol, it also reveals the degree of canopy disturbance and potential looting of areas yet to be documented by archaeologists on the ground.”


#445463 - 08/29/12 04:55 PM Re: Airborne lasers show deforestation at Caracol [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Lidar archaeology shines a light on hidden sites

If you think archaeologists spend all the time with trowel in hand in a muddy ditch then it’s time to think again. More and more are using sophisticated aircraft-mounted lasers, and it is opening up a new age of discovery.

For the best part of 25 years, archaeologists Arlen and Diane Chase slogged through the thick undergrowth in the west of Belize in search of an ancient city whose details had been lost to the passage of time and the decay of the jungle.

The going was tough, often requiring a machete to clear a path through the dense vines and creepers that blocked their way. Over time, their perseverance paid off as their hand-drawn maps began to reveal long-forgotten parts of the massive Mayan city of Caracol.

But the more the pair found, the more they realized the extent of what remained uncovered. It would take several lifetimes, they figured, to reveal the true extent of Caracol.

Then, in 2008, they got talking to a biologist colleague at the University of Central Florida where they worked. For years, he had been using airborne laser sensors known as Lidar (Light Detection And Ranging) to map and study forests and other vegetation. He suggested they give it a go.

So, in 2009, the pair packed away their machetes and hiking boots and took to the air in a twin-engine plane equipped with the technology. For four days they skimmed backwards and forwards over the tree-tops firing pulses of laser light at the ground below. A few weeks later, back at their lab in Florida, the pair got their first look at the results.

“I was completely astounded,” says Arlen Chase. “We had not expected the clarity that we saw in the imagery.”

“I am pretty sure we uttered some expletives,” Diane adds politely.

CLICK HERE for the rest of the article on BBC

#479393 - 12/10/13 04:12 AM Re: Airborne lasers show deforestation at Caracol [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

The Design and Fall of Civilizations

The technology uncovering humanity's past -- and perhaps its future.

Archaeologists discovered the Maya city of Caracol, hidden in the jungles of Belize, in the 1930s. In the 1980s, the husband-and-wife team of Arlen and Diane Chase began the daunting project of mapping Caracol and its environs. With teams of assistants and students, they tramped through the rain forest, recording and measuring every archaeological feature they could find. By 2009, after 25 years of labor, they had some of the most detailed maps ever made of a Maya city.

Then they tried a new mapping tool: "light detection and ranging" technology, or lidar. Although lidar had been used for years to survey large-scale features for projects such as urban planning and planetary exploration, only recently had it gained the resolution necessary for archaeological mapping. The Chases joined forces with NASA and the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping at the University of Houston, which supplied a plane retrofitted to carry a million-dollar lidar machine that flew five missions over Caracol and its environs, mapping the ground with lasers.

When the images came back, the Chases were stunned. The lidar maps showed that in the quarter-century they had spent roaming the rain-forest floor, they had found only about 10 percent of what was actually there. The new maps revealed tens of thousands of previously unknown features, large and small-structures, houses, roads, reservoirs, terracing, sinkholes, caves (some with burials and artifacts), and even open and looted tombs. In a little more than nine hours, the lidar mission had revealed that Caracol was a far larger area than previously imagined, an urban landscape covering 200 square kilometers.

The Chases declared lidar the greatest archaeological advance since carbon-14 dating, which won its discoverer a Nobel Prize and transformed the science of archaeology. It's true that archaeology is on the verge of another revolution because of lidar. The technology will soon strip away the world's jungles to reveal their lost civilizations and hidden treasures, a prospect recently demonstrated in dramatic fashion by Bill Benenson and Steve Elkins.

A few years ago, the two filmmakers had the crazy idea of mapping a large swath of unknown rain forest in the rugged interior mountains of Mosquitia, a region in Honduras. These mountains have the distinction of being among the last archaeologically unexplored regions on Earth, cut off by dense jungles, malarial swamps, roaring torrents, steep ravines, deadly snakes, and the even more formidable Honduran bureaucracy.

Benenson and Elkins were looking for a legendary lost city, known as La Ciudad Blanca (the White City), long rumored to be hidden in the area. They persuaded the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping to undertake the speculative project, the first to use lidar for pure exploration. (Previously, it had only been used to survey known sites.) And in May 2012, they spent a number of days flying over the Mosquitia mountains, logging a little more than eight hours of actual mapping time.

I accompanied Benenson, Elkins, and their team to Honduras as a journalist -- a trip I later wrote about for the New Yorker -- even though I believed their chances of finding something were small. Nothing much happened in the first few days, as the plane gathered raw data. But on the morning of the fourth day, the chief mapping engineer had crunched enough data to create maps of an isolated valley in the targeted area. Previously a skeptic, he burst out of his bungalow, running like a madman, waving his arms and yelling, "There's something in the valley!"

When we crowded into his room, we could see that the maps were covered with blurry, unnatural features that even to our inexpert eyes looked like ruins. Later analysis by archaeologists specializing in Mesoamerica revealed two, possibly three, unknown cities in those images, encompassing pyramids, plazas, roads, canals, terracing, rectangular mounds, and walls. This wasn't just a solitary city; it was a society. The prehistoric inhabitants of the Mosquitia rain forest -- they do not have a name yet -- had cleared the vegetation to create open areas, monumental architecture, roads, canals, dense housing settlements, and intensive agriculture. In a few hours, lidar had mapped an area that would have taken perhaps a century or more to survey using traditional methods, and in far greater detail.

Lidar doesn't just do faster and better what traditional archaeology can. By mapping hundreds of square kilometers in one fell swoop -- impossible in a ground survey -- it reveals how ancient civilizations organized themselves on the largest scales, how the hinterlands were connected to the cities, how the cities were connected to each other, and how people farmed, traded, and engaged in religious activity. All without turning over a spade of earth.

The use of lidar as an archaeological tool comes at a crucial time for the field. Over the past two decades, archaeologists have realized that most of their ideas about prehistoric settlement in the rain forests of the Americas were wrong. These jungles are not virgin: Prior to European contact, they were heavily cleared and the terrain extensively altered. Nor were these areas populated with scattered hunter-gatherer tribes, as we see today, but with advanced, sophisticated farming civilizations. The old idea that rain-forest soils are nutrient-poor and unable to support large-scale farming is now known to be false.

Given that, outside of Caracol and Mosquitia, the rain forests of Central and South America are untouched by lidar, I would expect surprising, if not mind-blowing, discoveries as other archaeologists begin their own swoops over the jungle canopy.

And this won't just happen in the Americas. The very first archaeological use of lidar in the Asian tropics led to the discovery of an ancient Khmer city hidden in the Cambodian jungle and revealed canals, roads, dikes, a score of unknown temples, a cave full of ancient carvings, and hundreds of mysterious mounds that may be ancient tombs. Not long ago, I met a young anthropologist at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who mentioned that she had started using lidar to map Penobscot Indian sites in Maine. I asked her what she thought of it as a tool. "Oh my God," she said, "lidar is crack."

Why does this all matter to the rest of us? Understanding how ancient civilizations organized themselves and why they collapsed is crucial to understanding many of the challenges we face today. The inhabitants of Mosquitia experienced a decline around the 13th century, a few hundred years after their more famous neighbor -- the Maya -- utterly collapsed, never to rise again. Long a mystery, the Maya collapse now appears to have been caused by environmental degradation and the growth of a wealthy class that hogged an ever-larger share of a dwindling pool of resources. Does this sound familiar? The story of archaeology is thick with cautionary tales that speak directly to the 21st century: from the demise of the Roman Empire (corruption, tax evasion, and military overspending) to the 12th-century fall of the Anasazi in the U.S. Southwest (clear-cutting, overfarming, and overreaching by the priestly class).

Civilizations change; problems endure. Our foreign-policy establishment would do well to heed the sometimes chilling lessons of the ancients.



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